Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Princeton at Three Hill Shoals

On Friday afternoon I tagged along with Princeton University students on their research trip to Three Hill Shoals.  Princeton University students are in Bermuda studying marine biology under BIOS researcher, Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, and Princeton University professor, Dr. James Gould.  Offered through the Princeton Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Marine Biology course is an intensive 4-week field course focused on marine ecology and coral reefs held annually at BIOS during the month of June. 

The students were headed out into the field to study corals and coral reef fish as part of their studies in coral community structure.  Half of the students collected data by snorkeling and the other half used scuba diving.  On the way to the shoals I got a chance to sit down and speak with two students, Lindsay and Sydney.  Both sophomores at Princeton, Lindsay is a biology major while Sydney is an economics major.  They explained to me that both the snorkelers and divers were identifying fish by using transect lines.  This is a sampling method that uses transect lines, in this case measuring tapes, to sample an area for species.  Transect lines are placed in an area, and any plant or animal that comes in contact with the line is then recorded.  In this case, the transect lines were placed on the reefs, and the fish that came in contact with the tape were then recorded.  The diving group also utilized underwater cameras to record video footage of activity at the transect line so the corals could later be identified back at the BIOS lab. 

Once we were within 10 minutes of Three Hill Shoals, the students began to get their gear on.  Experienced snorkelers and divers, everyone knew exactly what they were doing, and put everything on in a very methodological manner.  The divers checked their dive partner’s gear and made sure everything was ready.  By the time we arrived at the site, the wet suits were zipped, oxygen tanks had been strapped to their backs, and the clipboards and transect tapes were in hand. 

As the students jumped in, I was startled that their paper and clipboards went in with them!  I was so impressed to learn that the paper for recording data was waterproof, and that students could write while underwater!  Immediately after getting in the water, the students began to work.  I joined the snorkelers and we swam to a shallow reef.  Paired off into teams, the students carefully laid down their transects by swimming and dropping the transect line along as they went.  I watched as they recorded their data, and then move their transect to another area.  After about 40 minutes of data collection, the students returned to the boat. 

Once their gear was put away, the students were given a few minutes to jump back in for a leisurely swim.  We even got a fun group shot!

Back aboard the boat, I spoke with some of the students about their experiences at the BIOS station.  One told me that participating in the Princeton Marine Biology course at BIOS was “worthwhile and not something you can experience in any other place.”  She explained that before they went out on the trip, they memorized different fish and algae and said it was ”so cool to see them in the ocean.”  She is leaning towards a career in research.  I asked if her time at BIOS had changed her career plans, and she explained that because of the program she is now more interested in research, “I definitely think the research side is very interesting.  I’ve never been in the field before, and I’m really loving it--especially Walsingham Pond, Mangrove Bay, and Spittal Pond.” 

I then chatted with Dr. Jim Gould who is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a PhD in Animal Behavior and Ethology.  He specializes in animal behavior, specifically bees, and is known for proving that bees communicate through dances.  Gould and his wife have been to Bermuda 12 times, and it is Gould’s 10th time teaching the summer course at BIOS.  Gould explained that he loves the small class size and teaching at BIOS,  “it is the perfect place to study marine biology because of the temperatures and tropical habitat…most courses I teach are big lecture courses so this is a real treat.”  When I asked if some students changed their minds about their career field as a result of coming to BIOS, Gould explained, “yes, several students find their life passion.”  One student who was especially inspired by the course last summer, even came back to be a teacher’s assistant (TA) for the course this summer. 

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